THERE are feelings of frustration and worry among pub owners in the Wee County, following fresh restrictions imposed this week.

It was last orders for pubs across the central belt for at least 16 days – starting on Friday, October 9, until Sunday, October 25.

Despite £40million announced by the Scottish Government to prop up the hospitality sector, deep concerns remain.

Andrew McKnight, owner at Crams Bar in Alloa, had just completed a lockdown refurb of the premises – as recently reported.

The day following the announcement by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, he told the Advertiser: "It was going to be borderline anyway, with the restrictions in place and with the size of the place we can only get [so many customers] – it's not really viable, it was borderline anyway.

"But we thought it was better to be open trading, at least it's not losing money then and staff are still in the job.

"I just don't see how £40m is going to shore up all the hospitality businesses in Scotland.

It's difficult; we've got to get on with it, but there's not much help available from banks and that kind of thing. So, we are just going to have to – we already have – put our own money into the business to keep it going."

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser:

Looking past the current two weeks of closures, Andrew is even more concerned for the tough winter months ahead, with the flu season just on the horizon.

He also pointed out that smaller businesses will be at much more risk due to a lack of cash reserves or assets to liquidate.

Andrew added a lot of money was put into the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, but that did not support small pubs such as Crams, which does not serve food.

He said: "The VAT was cut to five per cent for hospitality, but the pubs like us, we don't see any benefit, it's not on alcohol.

"It's almost like our kind of pubs are being singled out or almost punished.
"I feel it's been pretty unfair really so far."

Many businesses already ordered in supplies before the announcement was made, Andrew saying that indications on what was to come remained "vague" in the lead-up.

Indeed, Donna McGregor, who just opened up McGregors with her husband Gary days before the March lockdown, was forced to cancel an order from suppliers after last week's announcement was made.

Speaking to the Advertiser last Thursday, she said: "It was like two day's notice; we've already put a beer order in yesterday because we have to put it in before 1pm, she didn't make the announcement until 2.50pm so we had to actually phone late in the afternoon and ask them to cancel our order."

Donna added: "This time it just came as a massive blow because we stuck to every rule going, thinking that was the best thing to do to make sure we stayed open.

"We feel like we've done everything in our power to do what we've been asked to do and we are still closed.

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser:

"It's just frustrating, very frustrating, and worrying because they've not said it's definitely going to last 16 days.

"If it goes on further than that it is going to be extremely worrying."

Donna also feels that she and her husband fell through the cracks as self-employed people at the family-owned pub, having spent most of last year renovating the premises to bring it back to good use.

"We do the Track and Trace, we do the extra cleaning, we've put the background music off, done a 10pm curfew – it feels like every week there's something else that comes in to keep knocking us down."

That meant they could show no books or figures to the government and were thus not eligible for support.

Donna, whose pub brought an empty premises back to use, said: "We'll never give up, we've put too much into this business, spent too much money to get it up and going, so we'll never give up, we need to keep going.

"But the staff, they need to look after themselves and their families as well so you can't expect them to stand by you every time this happens, especially with Christmas coming up.

"I don't understand why it's always hospitality that gets hit.

"We do the Track and Trace, we do the extra cleaning, we've put the background music off, done a 10pm curfew – it feels like every week there's something else that comes in to keep knocking us down."

During her address to the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon expressed her sympathies with the hospitality sector and the troubles it is facing.

Speaking after the announcement, she said: "I recognise how hard these restrictions are for individuals and for businesses, hospitality businesses in particular, which is why we are making financial support available.

“But, these steps are essential in bringing the virus back under control as we go further into the winter period.”